As the world mourns the loss of poet Maya Angelou, TMZ is reporting that the woman who called 911 was hesitant to perform CPR on the dying Angelou because she had expressed a desire not to be resuscitated.
However, since Angelou's wishes were apparently not spelled out in an advanced directive or living will, the 911 operator instructed Angelou's caretaker to perform CPR.
Although the caretaker's life-saving measures were unsuccessful, the incident still sheds light on an important issue for people of any age: how to ensure that end-of-life wishes are honored.
Do Not Resuscitate?
Angelou's case illustrates a common situation. Many older or terminally ill people do not wish to be resuscitated if they are close to death. Similarly, many do not wish to have life-prolonging medical care provided to them in the event that they fall into a vegetative state. They often verbalize these wishes to family members of caretakers and believe that this will be sufficient to have their wishes honored.
Often, however, in the absence of the proper documents, medical personnel will give life-saving or life-prolonging medical treatment to a patient even over the objections of family members or friends.
Advanced Directives / Living Wills
The best way to insure that your end-of-life wishes are honored is to have them documented in an advanced directive or living will.
Depending on your state, this document may be called an advanced directive, a living will, an advanced healthcare directive, or another similar name. But these documents all serve the same purpose: to compel doctors, paramedics, and other personnel to follow your wishes regarding resuscitation. A living will can also lay out your wishes for life-prolonging food and water and for pain management at the end of your life.
Often, these documents must be witnessed and sometimes notarized. In most states, living wills become effective whenever a person becomes unable to make his or her own medical decisions.